donotsteal 2015-Oct12
I remember a series of interviews we had organized for a high level position in the direct marketing agency I owned a while back. We had done the search, and there were some really talented people coming to Seattle to talk to us about the open position.
One person came into my office for his interview with a 10-inch stack of folders and three-ring binders. That was interesting, I thought. Perhaps he has some of his work to share with me. No, it wasn’t that at all. It was the latest strategic plans and budgets of our competitor, his current employer!!
I remember him saying the following: “Richard, I thought you would be interested in seeing this from [competitor]. It’s their latest plans and financials.” I was interested. Very interested, because we were trying to figure out how to deal with them in the marketplace.
But, in a nanosecond, two things happened in my head: first, I checked myself about the ethics of the whole thing, and second, I immediately made a judgment about the ethics and character of this potential employee.
So I said: “Sam (not his real name), I have to admit I would love to look at those documents. But I can’t – it wouldn’t be right. I am surprised that you think it is right. And for that reason we are not going to continue with this interview or consider you for employment. We value honesty and integrity in our organization, and this is just not right. We will cover your expenses as promised.” And that was it.
I have run into many situations like this in my career. And in major gifts, issues of integrity and honesty are usually related to donors or what MGOs are presenting to donors.
In major gifts, sometimes a MGO works for one charity, then changes jobs and takes the donor list with him. I think we all know that this is not appropriate or honest. But it does happen, and here is what you should do to prevent it:

  1. If you are a MGO, do not, under any circumstance, rationalize things to the point where you allow yourself to do this. It is stealing, pure and simple. Decide in advance, while things are going well in your job, that if you leave you will not be contacting any of your donors. And if they contact you, you need to politely but firmly pass them on to your successor. Do not cross this line.
  2. If you are a MGO and the donor at your new organization is the same donor from your old organization, be very careful to protect and manage the values on both sides. You are ethically obligated not to be influencing any gifts away from your old place of employment. Instead, talk up both organizations, leaving the donor in control of the giving decision.
  3. If you are a manager of MGOs, put non-disclosure language or agreements in place either in the job description or in a separate document. This is done all the time in business; I don’t know why we don’t do it more in the non-profit sector. I would have a separate non-disclosure agreement with each MGO that, right at the beginning of the relationship, sets up boundaries and protects your donor assets. This is not a matter of trust; it is good business. And your non-disclosure agreement should anticipate the situation I described above, where your donor who was assigned to the MGO is also the donor the MGO has in her new place of employment.
  4. If you are a manager of MGOs, do not pressure your MGO to bring donors from the organization she just left. It is not right, and it should not be done. If you do this, you are forcing your MGO to cross an ethical line.

Donor assets are like pure gold for an organization. If you were to place a value on each one, just based on the cost to acquire and cultivate them, the resulting number would shock you. That is why donor lists and donor relationships, which belong to the organization, need to stay in the organization’s control.